Thursday 15 June 2017

Tour of a Japanese sake (日本酒) brewery - Ishikawa sake brewery (石川酒造)

My sister Kylie and her partner Paul along with 2 of their friends recently came over to Japan for a week and before coming I asked them what they would like to do while here.  One of their requests was to have a tour of a sake brewery.  Now, sake requires clear, clean water which usually comes from areas sparsely populated, ie, mountain areas so my initial reaction was "a sake brewery, in Tokyo, with English??  Not wanting to shoot down the idea so quickly, I did a search for "sake brewery near Tokyo" and to my pleasant surprise the first hit was an article that outlined 3 sake breweries in and around Tokyo that offered tours and tastings in English!  I selected the one that was nearest to central Tokyo (advertised as 45 minutes from Shinjuku by Chuo line), Ishikawa sake brewery (English website here).  I sent an email to them and received a prompt reply and after a couple of days, had settled on a date and booked a tour.

Arriving at Haijima station we jumped into a couple of taxis (a 730 yen trip) and made our way over to the brewery.  As we arrived, my heart did a little skip of joy as the look of the buildings was quite old and the architecture quite traditional.

Going inside we met Kaiko who was to be our tour guide.  The tour started with the sake brewing warehouse.

Kaiko explained that the building was built in 1880 and had survived that Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and , unlike a lot of wood buildings in Japan, had never burned down, being built with fire resistant adobe materials.

Hanging above the door was a sight that I had seen many times here in Japan but did not truly understand what it signified.

Thanks to Kaiko, I now do know what it is!  It is called a sugidama or sakabayashi.It starts off green in colour and is hung above the door to let customers know that a new batch of sake is under production.  When it turns brown, this signals that the sake has aged sufficiently and is ready for drinking.

We next moved inside the building and the first thing I noticed was how cool it was inside!  I mentioned this to Kaiko and she explained that the brewing process, similar to beer, needs a controlled temperature to function efficiently.

We left the brewery warehouse and walked back out past the offices

past this (which, I think is talking about the river that flows through the area, the Tama River)

and stopped here 

where Kaiko explained that they get the water used in the brewing process from 150 metres underground!  She said that we were welcome to fill up pet bottles with the water.

Next up were a couple of trees that we were told were about 400 years old!

Next up was a massive old cauldron that used to be used for steaming the rice near the beginning of the brewing process.

Following that was another huge old cauldron that Kaiko told us was used by the brewery to brew beer in the late 19th century.

As we headed over to where they brew their beer,

Kaiko told us that the brewery first started brewing their beer in 1887, making them one of the pioneers if the young beer industry in Japan.  Unfortunately, 2 years later the brewery sold off their brewing equipment.  Fast forward 111 years and the decision was made to revive their beer brewing efforts and they now produce a variety of craft beer.

That beautiful little red machine in front of the building

Is an early 1970's Subaru that still runs!  You might be able to make out, on the front passenger side, the early style air conditioning that was used at the time!

The final stop on the tour was at an old well where the brewery used to draw their water from.

Listening carefully, you could still hear the water dripping away 20 metres underground.

This was also in an area that had a number of tables and chairs and Kaiko informed us that there are often events held here where the CEO, who plays the harmonica, often performs for guests.

And at that point, the official part of the tour finished.  We then went back to nearby the cellar shop

where we did some tasting and were able to buy some products.

The brewery also has 2 restaurants on site, an Italian restaurant and a Japanese restaurant so we decided to enjoy lunch in the Japanese restaurant which was beautiful inside and out.

Here are some of the dishes that we ordered.  Some Japanese pickles,

some fried tofu,

some delicious minced chicken patties that had crunchy chunks of lotus root in them and were then wrapped in a seaweed sheet, dipped into tempura batter and fried,

and my main dish which was a nice, bowl of soba noodles in soup with a couple of pieces of fried tofu on top.

What a delicious way to finish of a very informative and interesting tour.  For me, the buildings on the brewery grounds were a highlight.  Some of them are officially listed as Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan, which basically means that they are Japanese Heritage buildings

So, if you live in Japan and have a free day coming up, or if you are visiting Japan and would like a unique experience, get in touch with the Ishikawa brewery and have yourself a tour!

That's it for this post.  Thanks, as always for reading.  Please leave a comment below and sign up to receive email notifications when I update.  Thanks again and see you next time.